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Woodturning News: General News

THE KANSAN: Turning wood into art (12/22/2016)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016   (0 Comments)
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For John Buckner, woodturning has been more of a lifelong pursuit than a hobby. A member of the American Association of Woodturners, Buckner has created items from dozens of different woods for more than 75 years.

Buckner grew up in Ash Grove, Missouri, where his father worked for the newspaper. To make ends meet, Buckner's father made items from wood to sell and built furniture for the family from walnut wood harvested on their farm.

"My dad was a superb woodworker," Buckner said. "I remember crawling around on the shop floor and piling blocks up and playing around. He had me turning on a lathe by the time I was seven years old, so I've been doing it an awful long time."

The pieces his father worked on were made to last, and Buckner still has the baby bed and toy chest he used as a child.

Buckner earned degrees in music from the University of Northern Colorado and the University of Kansas, then the Korean War took him out of the Midwest.

"My draft number came up and I was warned that I would be going in the Army if I didn't do something, so I enlisted in the Navy and auditioned for the music program," Buckner recalled. "I spent all four years in Washington, D.C."

Buckner taught hundreds of students in his time at the U.S. Naval Academy.

"The ones that could barely pass, we sent them to Guantanamo Bay," Buckner laughed.

Buckner went on to teach music at Washburn University, where he retired as Professor Emeritus of Music. When he wasn't teaching,

Buckner took his wares to sell at craft shows.

"I very much enjoy meeting people, especially when they're really thrilled, taking home something I've made," Buckner said.

The items Buckner makes from wood include bowls, plates, clocks, pens, letter openers, wine bottle stoppers, spinning tops, door stops, key rings, fan pulls, coffee scoops and delicate sea urchin ornaments.

Buckner's favorite wood to work with is butternut, also known as white walnut.

"It works awfully well; it just smells wonderful while you're working it," Buckner said. "It has a beautiful grain and pattern to it."

Buckner works primarily on a Jet lathe set up in his garage at Kidron Bethel Village in North Newton.

"Lathes come from little to big," Buckner explained. "The biggest I can turn now is around 10 inches or so. I just don't have a whole lot of room."

Hearkening back to his love for music, Buckner turns pieces of wood into conductor's batons, balancing them by inserting brass balls in the handle.

"One of the real joys I having is turning things for people out of wood that has some significance for them," Buckner said. "I went up to Olpe, Kansas, and brought back a pickup load of Osage Orange fenceposts."

Pens made from those fenceposts - and wood from a Swedish forest and pews from the Gloria Dei Lutheran church in Wichita - have come from Buckner's workshop.

His most popular items include keyrings that also serve as toothpick holders and wands inspired by the Harry Potter books.

"Last year, I made a pair of them for a wedding present," Buckner said.

Buckner also works with Corian, turning the polymer that is often used in countertops to create yo-yos.

"They just take forever to make," Buckner said. "It is awfully important in any yo-yo that both sides be exactly the same weight. I turn the two sides of the yo-yo separately and weigh them on a scale and get them to within a half-gram apiece."

For every yo-yo he succeeds in making, another ends up in the trash.

"There's not really any good way to tell on a lathe, when the thing is spinning around, how much you're taking off," Buckner said.

When Buckner moved to North Newton, he hired students from Bethel College to come clean his shop.

"I got to thinking I could sure use some kids to do the grunt work - run the drill press and cut out bowl blanks - and I would do the artistic work," Buckner said. "I am currently on my seventh Bethel College kid working with me."

Being able to pass on the skills he has learned is important to Buckner.

"The opportunity to work with people younger than I am has really been a terrific joy for me," Buckner said. "They come over to my shop a couple of hours a week and we make things."

With the assistance of his helpers, Buckner teaches workshops for those interested in woodturning.

"We will go someplace that invites us and help people, all the way from seven years old up through 80 years old, turn something to take home," Buckner said. "I rough the things out so it's not going to take us an hour and a half apiece."

The items he makes are displayed for sale in Mojo's on the campus of Bethel College and in the Kauffman Museum in North Newton.

 

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